Friday, April 20, 2007
Dropping F Bombs
In arguing for the current surge of combat forces to Iraq, senior administration officials say they're unwilling to consider a "Plan B" for Iraq—options in case the surge fails. Sen. John McCain echoes this sentiment, as does Gen. David Petraeus in Baghdad, counseling patience while the current plan is put into action.
But defining the current surge as a "Plan A" is a dangerously dishonest move that ignores the history of the Iraq war to date. In fact, since 2003, we have run through at least six plans, none of which has succeeded. The Petraeus plan is something more akin to Plan F—truly, the last Hail Mary play in the fourth quarter. And if it fails, then we better start considering Plan G, also known as "Get out of Iraq."
After chronicling the permutations of the many prior "plans," Carter comes to this conclusion:
Gen. Petraeus and his brain trust have devised the best possible Plan F, given the resources available to the Pentagon and declining patience for the war at home. But the Achilles heel of this latest effort is the Maliki government. It is becoming increasingly clear to all in Baghdad that its interests—seeking power and treasure for its Shiite backers—diverge sharply from those of the U.S.-led coalition. Even if Gen. Petraeus' plan succeeds on the streets of the city, it will fail in the gilded palaces of the Green Zone. Maliki and his supporters desire no rapprochement with the Sunnis and no meaningful power-sharing arrangement with the Sunnis and the Kurds. Indeed, Maliki can barely hold his own governing coalition together, as evidenced by the Sadr bloc's resignation from the government this week and the fighting in Basra over oil and power.
Plan F will fail if (or when) the Maliki government fails, even if it improves security. At that point, we will have run out of options, having tried every conceivable strategy for Iraq. It will then be time for Plan G: Get out.
Carter makes a point that I have been trying to reinforce over the past week. Despite the fact that Bush administration officials - and even Maliki's own spokespeople - are trying to spin the resignation of the Sadr ministers as some early indicator of Maliki's bold new effort in the direction of Sunni rapprochement, the truth is somewhat less grandiose or inspiring. Sadr's ministers were not standing in the way of Maliki's "outreach," nor has Maliki or any of his Shiite allies come forth with some new formula for power sharing since. This despite the hagiographic version of Maliki "The Uniter" put forth by people like Amir Taheri and Peter Brookes.
I'll go further and say that, while there are certainly tensions and skirmishes (some bloody especially in the oil rich regions in the south) between the various Shiite factions (notably, Sadr vs. SCIRI), the departure of the six Sadrist ministers was not the opening salvo in some internecine Shiite conflagration. Maliki still needs Sadr, and Sadr still needs Maliki (and all of the related institutions and personalities that each side represents). Jockeying for position in the south between SCIRI and Sadr is one thing, but that conflict will likely be kept "in house" for the time being - at least if Sistani can influence the feuding parties, and I believe he can. That's not a certainty, though, and Sistani's influence may be less than it once was.
Despite this, the recent political maneuvers look like theater designed to give both Sadr and Maliki an advantage in pursuing their respective agendas - while also placating US government officials urging for a crackdwon on Sadr's movement. Sadr gets to reconfirm his anti-occupation, nationalist bona fides (while distancing himself from the unpopular government), while Maliki can use the "weakness" of his government as an excuse for failing to achieve progress on efforts to forge political solutions to the current conflict.
On a tangential note, if I could quibble with one bit of Carter's column, I'd say that he is overly sanguine in his description of this "success":
The Marines scored a stunning turnaround in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province by brokering a deal with Sunni tribes that effectively marginalized al-Qaida...
While there are certainly promising developments along these lines, and there are serious tensions and in-fighting between certain Sunni tribal/insurgent groups and other Sunni groups allied under al-Qaeda's banner, it would be beyond premature to declare that al-Qaeda in Iraq has been "marginalized." In fact, some theorize that the anti-al-Qaeda reaction on the part of some of those Sunni tribes/insurgent groups was born out of a sense of desperation at the strengthening of al-Qaeda's position.
Marc Lynch (everyone's favorite Aardvark) has been all over this for the past couple of weeks (as Brian Ulrich noted recently). Here is his latest effort, but if you want more, just scroll down his main page. Greg Gause's contributions on Lynch's site are also worth a gander.